Pairing Wine With Your Palate
Wednesday - May 12, 2006
Food and wine pairing is an inexact science. It’s not really even science, it’s more like an art. If you give any wine or food expert a menu, they can try to prescribe the best possible wine to go with that dish. But unless they’ve had that exact dish with that exact wine, all they are giving you is their best educated guess.
As a sommelier, one of the best experiences I can give to a guest is to match a wine with a dish that goes so well it becomes an experience and taste that neither the dish nor the food could have on its own. The old adage of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts is quite appropriate.
But this is truly the “holy grail” of cuisine and the goal of any good sommelier. In the end, they are very far and few in between. We certainly can’t expect it every day, as much as we try to get close.
But, quite frankly, I’m over the whole “you have to have this wine with this dish” thing! White wine goes with fish and red wine goes with meat is pretty much everything that most people know, and it’s a really good starting point. It’s based on the very good principle that light wines should go with lightly textured dishes and heavy wines go well with heavier-textured food. I would just add that the more complex or intensely flavored dish, the more complex and intense the wine needs to be as well.
Ok, that’s pretty much all the advice you need, and all that I’ll offer right now. Because, really, how many of you have stopped drinking a wine because it really didn’t go well with what you were eating? Or how often do you stop yourself from trying a wine that you just bought and are excited to pop because you didn’t have the right ingredients to prepare the perfect dish for it? Or have you returned a dish at a restaurant because it wasn’t exactly the dish for the wine you’re paying for? I’d bet not many of you have.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for putting together food and wine pairings that make sense and provide the optimal conditions for tasting each. But what I really want to emphasize is eat what you like with what you like to drink. Just because someone says something goes better with that dish, don’t let that stop you from ordering your favorite bottle of Shiraz with that filet of opakapaka, or that bottle of Chardonnay for the rack of lamb special of the night.
Taste is such a personal thing. If you like a certain wine so much, no one can change that opinion. Maybe you’ll taste a Riesling that does go better with your seared ahi than a Merlot. But will it really change your “taste” or your drinking habits? Maybe you just don’t like Riesling and don’t care for wines that are sweet. So does that mean that you aren’t “cultured” or savvy?
Not in my book. You have a different palate and you should drink whatever makes it happy.
The food and wine pairing phenomenon can even be seen as yet another stumbling block in people’s enjoyment of wine - just something else someone who wants to drink wine needs to learn. Don’t worry about it. Don’t get all tied up in knots over what to pair with what you’re eating. Drink what you like. I’m not going to stop. Why should you?
In case you do need a couple of recommendations, for drinking anyway:
* 2003 Ramos Pinto Adriano Red, Douro River Valley, Portugal $12. This ripe dry red is made from a blend of the same grapes that make Port. Full of berries and spice, it has a smooth and generous mouth feel. A fun and pleasurable wine for barbecues and roasts.
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